Plum Season

What I like about living in Europe is that you can still pick fresh fruits for free, even in urban areas. All you need to have is an attentive eye for splattered, rotting fruit underfoot and you begin to notice which fruits are in season.

I was going about my normal jogging route when I noticed black fruit flies congregating on sticky-looking mush on the pavement. I looked up and saw a tree laden with huge yellow egg plums! They deserve the name, it really are as huge as small eggs. I returned with a net and a basket after my jog and hauled a total of five kilos of fruit. My basket was only a fourth full!

The plums were tart with their skins, but they were super sweet with the skins peeled off. And the seed just separated itself so easily, which is a big advantage for fruit. I baked a plum cake, and I still had a kilo left over. Unfortunately, plums don’t keep well, so I had to throw the rest away, despite snacking on them non-stop since last weekend. The cake is safely stored in the freezer, and I now have cake to feed unexpected guests with.

Plum and mirabelle season is  in full swing in Europe, so I reckon you should get out there and pick them plums!

Building a Neigborhood

Photo Renate L.

Anybody who has lived in Erfurt for years knows that Erfurt Nord is an industrial area. Forged by concrete and steel, it was known for prostitution and violence.

If you told anybody here that Metallstrasse was named the “Most Beautiful Street in Germany,” they would laugh their asses of. There is nothing beautiful about bricked over lovely art noveau buildings and brothels.

However, a group of people wanted to grow their own food, and live with nature, without necessarily having to leave the city. And found a place to do it, in cooperation with the industries in the area.

I am very grateful to have the Garden move where it is currently located. The Garden has become a place for people to gather and connect. It has begun revitalizing a once-dreaded neighborhood. Families are moving back here, partly because of the Garden. Old buildings are being renovated for residential purposes. Old people come and reminisce about the history of the Garden, what the place used to look like before, during, and after the war.

And because of this, the Intercultural Garden Erfurt is one of ten winners nationwide of “Die Schönste Straße Deutschlands,” the initiative of a local chain of hardware stores and Netzwerk Nachbarschaft. Kudos to Karin, the current president of this initiative, and for the current members who all lend a hand in the transformation of an impoverished district.

I am so very glad that this Garden exists, and that I am a part of it. It is certainly well-deserved!

Erntedankfest

It’s time to wind down this year’s farming season with an harvest festival. Although this year I am quite glad that I am not dependent on my garden for sustenance. This year’s tomatoes are quite good, but this year’s potatoes, apples, pears, pumpkins did not quite make it due to the weird weather this year.

.erntedankfest Despite that, a year of hard work and cameraderie is always a cause for celebration. The Pear Cake made a debut, along with a batch of Taboule. The pears were a gift from a tree, and the veggies and herbs in the salad came from my balcony and the garden. Along with home-made elderberry soda, it was a great way to use what grew this year.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay so long. It was great to meet the new people in our ever growing community garden, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the fruits of the summer this fall and winter.

Tag der Nachhaltigkeit

I got an e-mail that informed me of an event called RegionNah market on Tag der Nachhaltigkeit (Sustainability Day) in Erfurt last August 10, and so I trooped to the corn field maze, where they were holding the event. Local entrepreneurs got to showcase their products, and got to see really cool demonstrations and talked to many like-minded and interesting people.

The Loot

The Loot

This year’s purchases were: A three-liter carton of apple juice made from Streuapfel, or apples picked from fogotten or uncared-for trees in Apolda; honey from Fuchsfarm, a project similar to ours; honey from a local bee-keeper, and mustard from Jena.

Interesting products were ostrich meat and eggs from an ostrich farm near Hermsdorf, Goat milk products, and wood jewelry and carvings.

It was a great way to get to see what other ecological projects are going on in the area. I am looking forward to next year’s event!

Cherry season

Sweet, sweet cherries have arrived!

There are two cherry trees in the city that I forage cherries from. One is right next to my son’s kindergarten. I’ve been patiently been watching the cherries turn red, and here they are!  So I took three lunchboxes with me last week, and turned my three-year old son into a criminal by trespassing into someone’s unguarded property to pick some cherries together.

Cherries are normally a pain to turn into jam, since you have to pit them all to work with them.  These cherries were so sweet that it took two packets of citric acid and a dash of extra pectin to get them to jelly.

So basically, the best thing to do with this kind cherries is…to eat them! Though because these are organic cherries, they are bound to have a maggot or two in them every so often. Not for the squeamish, but I don’t mind the extra protein 🙂

I am eagerly awaiting the end of July, during the sour cherry season. They are better suited for jam-making. What I’m  not looking forward to are days of darkened fingernails and stained aprons. Oh well, the product is worth it anyway.

Updates from the Community Garden

Potato plants

The community garden is doing well and going strong. This year’s crops include: onions, potatoes, zucchini, and garlic! Leeks from last year have re-sprouted, and a new potato bed is going strong. I am really happy with the work that we do, even if all I do is water plants and weed.

On my balcony, the strawberries are still in their baby stages, but the pechay (tatsoi) is doing very well, and have all bolted because of the very hot weather we’ve been having lately. I’ve got zucchini growing out of a pot, as well as two varieties of tomatoes and some onion, as well as my usual herbs. My dill hasn’t been doing so well, I think it has a bug infestation, or it doesn’t like the onion next to it. This weird wet/hot/humid weather is making my balcony plants act irrationally. My Thai basil for example have stunted growth and bleached leaves  because of the long cold, then the intense heat of the past few days.

All in all, I am looking forward to a bountiful harvest. I’ve already helped myself to the red beets from last winter. See you at the garden!

Dandelion Salad

Now that spring has sprung, dandelions and daisies are making a wonderful comeback! Did you know that they are edible? Neither did I until I read the Hunger Games. In the book, Katniss the protagonist was on the verge of starvation when she saw a dandelion which gave her back the confidence to care for her family by scavenging for edible wild herbs and vegetables and by hunting. She made dandelion salad that day.

This piqued my interest and decided to try it out by picking a few dandelions from our backyard. Î fried some bacon bits, added some home-made croutons, blanched the dandelions shortly in hot water to get the bitterness out, dressed it in olive oil, pepper, and salt.

It was very pretty to look at, as you could see from the photo. But how did it taste like?. Uhmm…let’s say it was an interesting experience. Blanching didn’t completely remove the bitterness, and I was only able to counteract it by chewing the salad with bacon bits. The leaves are really tough. And I swear it stayed in the pit of my stomach for a day. Oh, and did you know that dandelion is also a diuretic?

My conclusion is:  I think that dandelion leaves are better suited for cooking than for a salad.  Why bother with dandelion salad when rocket (aka rucola) also grows wild in Germany? Katniss  must have been really desperate to have eaten dandelion salad.

Jein.

Jein is one of my favorite German words. It starts with a soft “y”, and with the sharpness of the  “ein,” at the end, makes it sound like an ache you cried out.

It is a combination of the words for yes, “ja,” and no, “nein.” The closest English equivalent is “yeahbut…”

I’ve been thinking about the move. If the commune were willing to give me the space in the attic, then I would definitely say JA. But the thought of downgrading my life to 16 square meters is  exhausting, especially with everything that has been going on in my life right now. A kitchen of my own, I’m sorry to say after self-examination, is a non-negotiable. I really searched within myself if I were willing to share a bathroom with somebody not in my immediate household. Yes, and I’ve done it before. Not having even a teeny-tiny tea kitchen? No.

The space in the attic, they said, will be used as a common space, and they don’t have the money to build it anyway. If I were able to come up with the financing and be a member of the e.V. and not just be a renter, that would solve that.

The biggest equation in the “yeahbbut” debate was my current job situation. I am willing to move to other parts of Germany, and overseas, if need be. That would make the whole commune living argument moot. In fact, that makes even moving to a different part of Erfurt, which my father-in-law has been asking, and I have been resisting for different reasons, moot.

The Mommy Files: Should I Live in A Commune?

No, I am not running away to India. Rather, I’ve been invited to join a group of like-minded people who are building a multi-generational Wohngemeinschaft (living community), one of the many alternative living projects that are popping up in Germany like mushrooms. I’ve been invited to join an e.V., and this organization’s project was to renovate a century-old brownstone building. Instead of keeping the layout of individual apartments, they decided to turn it into a giant shared apartment. The owners and tenants will not have individual apartments, but individual rooms. There are communal bathrooms on each floor, a common kitchen, a shared library, two balconies on each floor, and a common living room. So basically, if I move into this place, I’ll be living in a retirement home without retiring.

The thing is, I already turned them down once. However, one of the people backed out the last minute, because the community isn’t granola enough for them (really! They wanted everyone to eat meals at the same time!) They have asked me to reconsider, since they know me and they know my principles (if you read this blog, you know that I’m a bit crunchy). Today, they were enticing me to move in by showing me the kitchen equipment at my disposal if I do decide to live with them.

I’ve got until Tuesday to make my decision. Now here are the pros and cons of moving there.

PROS:

I know the people– The organizer of this project is a mom in my son’s kindergarten (in fact, that’s how we met). She is as granola as me: meaning, we live an alternative lifestyle but are aware that money is not the enemy. Two of the people who live there are from my community garden club, and I was responsible for hooking them up to this living community in the first place because I backed out. They’re all crunchy Catholic Bavarians, and I know that I will get along with them fine.

Saves babysitter money– There will be several children in the building: two of them go to my son’s kindergarten. He’ll never run out of playmates, basically re-creating my childhood in the Philippines growing up surrounded with children. As an only child, he constantly bugs me to play with him. Not a problem here. There will also be several other people who I trust who can watch over my kid.

Cheaper rent– ’nuff said.

Cooking will be more fun– it’s much more fun to cook for several people than cooking for yourself.

CONS:

Serious downgrade my life-mode– The reason the rent is cheap because as of now, there is only one available room, 16 square meters. This means I’ll have to downgrade my life to 2006 levels, when my life fit in one suitcase.Then wait until a room frees up.

Shared kitchenOne of the many things that foreigners notice about Germany is that they are attached to their kitchens. They are so attached to it that when they move house, they take the whole kit and kaboodle, along with the lighting fixtures. Seriously, the only thing left are the shower, toilet and sink. I didn’t get it until I started cooking. I love my kitchen so much that it was seriously the only thing I missed about Germany when I spent a month in Manila. The first thing I did when I got home was take pictures of it and uploaded them to Facebook to show my brother what my kitchen looked like. A shared kitchen for me is actually worse than a shared bathroom. I notice that the older I get, the less compromising I become

Job Situation– I am looking for a job, and I don’t really want to relocate twice in case I have to move to a different state.

I have tonight to sleep over my decision. Wish me luck!

 

Thüringer Bratwurst

Doesn’t look like much, does it? But it’s reaaallly good.

This blog sometimes documents my efforts to re-create Philippine/American cuisine in a foreign country.

I also sometimes think about what if I were back in the Philippines? What German dishes would I try to re-create? My answers to that question are a) Rotkraut, or stewed red cabbage, b) Klose, or potato dumplings, c) Braten, or pot roast, and the only one I haven’t made from scratch is d) Thüringer Bratwurst.

brat3Thüringer Bratwurst (although the literal translation is fried sausage, Bratwurst is actually grilled over hot coals) is a way of life in Thuringia. It is a geographically-protected product, so any bratwurst made outside of Thuringia would be Thuringian-style. It is normally eaten in a bun, smothered with tart mustard. Ketchup is fine, but purists will wrinkle their noses at the sight.

Thuringians literally eat that stuff up, especially in the summer, when everybody and their mom goes on a picnic outdoors. I estimate I eat one or two a week between May and September.

brat1There is a museum dedicated to the Bratwurst, and today we braved the cold (-4°C in the sun!) to go to the annual Thuringian Bratwurst festival. It is a hokey, small-town festival not unlike the fairs in the US, with the “Bratwurst King and Queen” opening the ceremonies. My friend Tanya was there as a chef with the “Friends of the Thüringer Bratwurst Club,” and she committed sacrilege by not putting casing over the Bratwurst, and adding plums soaked in Thuringian Aromatique bitter and bacon. Only a foreigner would be adventurous enough to toy with tradition, and it was surprisingly good! The sweet plum contrasted nicely with the salty bacon and smoke-flavored Bratwurst.

If there is one thing that is a must-eat here in Thuringia, it would be the Bratwurst.